Edinburgh's conservation lobby should compromise a little as economic crisis deepens – Susan Dalgety

You can almost hear the New Town tones of indignation bellowing from the Cockburn Association’s Twitter feed.

Miranda Dickson's door is apparently too pink for Edinburgh's New Town (Picture: Courtesy of Miranda Dickson/SWNS)
Miranda Dickson's door is apparently too pink for Edinburgh's New Town (Picture: Courtesy of Miranda Dickson/SWNS)

“We have alerted @Edinburgh_CC (the city council) to a potentially unauthorised alteration to a listed building at 34a North Castle Street involving the erection of a timber chalet structure” read a recent post. There was also a helpful photograph of the offending extension to the city centre bar Tonic. And the post contained a link to the city council’s planning department, to make it easier for the Cockburn Association’s followers to report any possible breaches of planning controls they might encounter.

One unfortunate bar owner on the edge of the city has already upset the conservation Grinches. Andrew Richardson has been told to remove the glorious purple paint that adorns his gin shop, The House of Boe, in South Queensferry’s High Street.

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Richardson justified his choice of colour to a national newspaper: “What I wanted us to have, was a building that felt [like it] enhanced the High Street or fitted with it, rather than this broken-down grey building that we had.”

But the city’s leading conservation group was having none of it. Terry Levinthal, from the Cockburn Association, said: “If everybody just did whatever they wanted to do, then the special qualities of these places could be eroded quite significantly.”

New Town resident Miranda Dickson recently found out what happens to residents who dare to inject a bit of colour into the urban landscape. She has until January 7 to repaint her pretty pink front door, after the city council slapped an enforcement notice on her for choosing the wrong shade.

Council guidelines suggest a “muted” pink is acceptable. Apparently Ms Dickson’s choice is too “bright” for the World Heritage conservation site where her family home sits.

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I have some sympathy with the Cockburn Association and the planners. Edinburgh’s built heritage is perhaps our biggest selling point, particularly to the global tourists on which much of our economy depends. It must be protected from the worst instincts of developers and DIY enthusiasts.

But cities are living organisms. They change with the seasons, alter with the generations. Buildings decay, become unsustainable. Demand drives innovation. The New Town, where building started in 1767, may be one of the finest examples of urban planning in Europe, but it is also where 21st century businesses operate. There must be compromise between the demands of the conservation lobby and real life.

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Our hospitality industry has taken a battering these last few years. A global pandemic, followed by soaring inflation and sky-high energy prices, have forced some bars and restaurants out of business and put many more on the brink of closure.

Is it any wonder people like Andrew Richardson want to entice customers into their shops with a pot or two of purple paint? Or that Tonic hopes its seasonal hut – dressed to look like a ski-lodge – will help it attract festive revellers?

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As for Miranda Dickson’s pink door, Georgians loved the colour. Some even painted the entire outside of their neo-classical homes in pink. The city council should be grateful Miranda stopped where she did.